The Power of Yesterday

3
Memory Lane

My 30th high school class reunion is this weekend. That’s right, I graduated before a single president had the last name of “Bush.” When mullets were cool. When the world’s very first laptops weighed nearly 20 pounds.

For a lot of you, the world of 1987 would seem as unfamiliar as a foreign planet, as archaic as the Holy Roman Empire. No smartphones? No internet? You actually had to roll down car windows? Crazy, right?

But for oldsters like me, the ’80s are funny for a different reason: It feels like yesterday.

I may look old(ish), but a big chunk of me still feels like an 18-year-old. Music from Prince and Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and (forgive me) Cyndi Lauper don’t feel like oldies: They feel like real music, man. And if a DJ happens to be on hand to spin some of those classics during my reunion, I might be tempted to dance the night away … or until maybe I pull a muscle.

Maybe you’re not that different from me. You might be 29. Or 67. But I bet that there are moments where you still feel like you’re 17 or 18, wondering just when you’ll actually feel wise and understanding like adults are supposed to feel. (And if you really are 18 or younger, well, just bookmark this page and read it again in another 10 years on your holographic implants or whatever.)

In 1984, Alphaville came out with a song called “Forever Young.” Back then, I read it as a sort of fatalistic ballad about the inevitability of getting old and decrepit. “I want to be forever young,” the song tells us.

But when I hit 40, I realized—a bit to my own horror—that I didn’t feel that much different than I did when I was in high school. There I was, with a wife and two kids and a job that paid my mortgage, and I still felt like a kid. A more responsible kid, sure, but still a kid.

In our minds, perhaps we always do feel forever young. Too bad our bodies don’t buy into the lie.

I think that’s why nostalgia is such a powerful force in the culture today. It allows us to live in the past to some extent—to make our external reality match up a bit more closely with our forever-young hearts. Well, sort of.

Consider last year’s top-grossing concert tours: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band topped Beyoncé as 2016’s biggest moneymaker—more than 30 years after their Top 40 heyday. Other acts in the top 10 included Guns N’ Roses, Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks and the Rolling Stones.

The year’s highest-grossing movie is Beauty and the Beast—its popularity at the box office no doubt spurred by young moms who, as children, watched the classic animated film a bazillion times on their old VHS machines. And a bunch of big-budget releases scheduled for release this fall are remakes or reboots, including Blade Runner 2049, Jumanji, Friday the 13th and the Six Billion Dollar Man.

Television seems particularly prone to tap into our culture’s collective keening for nostalgia. In the last seven months, I’ve reviewed MacGyver, Lethal Weapon, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Twin Peaks, Fargo and Castlevania—all shows pinned to either movies or television shows or, in the last case, a video game from days gone by. Why, Netflix, what with its reboots (Fuller House) and  nostalgia-centric shows (Stranger Things), seems to be pinning its entire business philosophy on our unquenchable thirst for yesteryear.

“We now live in a world where TV shows never die,” David Nevins, the chief executive of Showtime, told The New York Times. And these shows allow us to recall, in a way, our own past and youth, too.

Consider the passion that, say, a show like Friends still engenders. Whenever two of the old cast members end up in the same room, it apparently merits several fevered news stories, and the show’s legion of fans still pine for a reunion or reboot or something—despite the fact that the cast members themselves have said that a reunion will never happen. We even served up some thoughts from Matt LeBlanc, who played Joey in the old sitcom, in last week’s Culture Clips.

“What story are we telling?” LeBlanc asked The Daily Beast. “Those characters have all gone their separate ways, they’ve all grown up.  … That show was about a finite period in people’s lives, after school and before you get married. That time where your friends are your support system. And once that time’s over, that time’s over.”

Ain’t that the truth? A hard truth, perhaps, but a truth nevertheless.

We are finite creatures. We pass through the seasons of our lives like road-trippers in a car that never stops, making note of the landmarks we see along the way but unable to make a home there. We see our high school selves change and move on. We watch our kids grow and leave. Sometimes, we miss the times that came before. And 10 years from now, we’ll miss where we are—were—today.

But our God is an infinite God, and He gifted us a hint of the eternal. And so even as we change and grow and age, part of us takes the past with us. Not just the detritus we come across … the movies or music we loved back then. We remember, keenly, what it felt to be 8 years old. Or 18. Or 28. In a very real way, we’re still all those things … even if we don’t look it. Nostalgia doesn’t just help us tap into our old selves, but our infinite selves.

I don’t think nostalgia is bad. I’m as susceptible to its charms as anyone I know. But I also think it’s healthy to accept change, too. To understand that we are tourists through time, and as such to not just appreciate what we’ve seen, but embrace what’s to come. And to realize that, eventually, we’ll someday reach a land where clocks and calendars have no place, where past and future are one and the same. Where we’ll be forever young, forever old and, most importantly, forever home.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

charitysplace 8 months ago
Excellent post.

I seem to mark my years through progress -- I recall the attitudes I had at specific ages, and am grateful to be gradually maturing past them. I joke that when I'm 80, I'll say, "I thought I was SO MATURE at seventy, but... pfft, I wasn't!"

Revisiting the past is an odd thing. For some people, it's comforting. For others (me) it feels like looking behind instead of forward; like walking through a ghost town. I especially hate reboots of old shows; in some instances (such as "Gilmore Girls") I feel I have outgrown them; in others, seeing the actors so much older / more wrinkled / with less hair saddens me, because I kind of wanted to imagine the characters forever young. Seeing them get "old" reminds me of my own increased years; it makes me think that in 12 years, I will have more wrinkles, more creaking joints, maybe even less hair.

There was a wonderful, tragic, beautiful, sad line in "The Crown" that sums up my feelings about age -- in the episode where Winston Churchill spends time with a famous painter, who paints a portrait of him as he was -- old. Churchill was offended when he saw it, because it forced him to confront his true self. In an emotional spiel, he lashed out at the painter and asked, "Why would you [paint me like that]? It's CRUEL." And the painter, with raw emotion, replied, "AGE is cruel."

It's true, and so profound -- age IS cruel. It reminds us of our mortality. Our spirits live on, forever young, but our bodies fall apart and eventually... stop.

I yearn for that Other Place so much, sometimes I have to remind myself to be here. Present. Now. Even if my skin is looser on my eyelids than before. I will not become more beautiful over time in a physical sense -- but I can become more beautiful in my soul.
bobed 8 months ago
I spent my childhood in the innate belief that upon turning 18, or 21, or some other magical year, something would just "click" and I'd feel like an adult. Never happened. It's very slow and gradual and it happens in degrees, and one day you wake up and realize you've got a wife and kids and a house and a job and you still feel like the kid you were 20 years ago. It's the same for almost everyone, I think. You're not alone, Paul.
bobed 8 months ago
Also, though, I think it's essential to make a conscious choice to BE an adult. Cast aside childish things and behaviors and take responsibility for yourself. Some people handle this better than others.